International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

The Secret to Fork-Tender Braising

Braised venison shank

Image Creative Commons by Isaac Wedin

Cheap cuts of meat are usually tough because they come from parts of the animal that get the most exercise — shoulders, chuck and shanks and round. But these cuts are also the most flavorful. The key to cooking them correctly is long, slow braising in liquid. But have you ever found that no matter how long you leave that stew on the stovetop, it just never gets to that falling-apart, melt-in-your-mouth stage? What's the secret to fork-tender braising? It's actually easier than you would think.

Under the right conditions, a tough cut of meat gets tender because all the connective tissue gets hot enough for long enough that it gelatinizes and melts into the braising liquid. The problem with stove-top braising is that all the heat is focused on the bottom of the pot. Regular stirring redistributes the ingredients, and eventually even the toughest meat will soften. But the stuff on the top of the pot will always be cooler than the stuff on the bottom. So unless you're willing to stir constantly, it can take a while for the meat to cook through.

So how can you speed the process up? Easy. Cover the pot with a lid and put it in the oven. The even heat of an oven will surround the whole pot and heat all the ingredients equally, top and bottom. And because the heat isn't focused in one place, there is much less chance of scorching. Just make sure to use an ovenproof pot with an ovenproof lid and set your oven temperature to around 350°F. Most pot roasts, stews or braises will finish in about three-fourths the time.

So next time you're set for a stew, set it in the oven and you're good to go!